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Pederal Design Library 11 

A series presenting information and ideas 

related to federal design 

National Endowment for the Ai 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 

Federal Design Library 

A series presenting information and ideas 

related to federal design 

Massimo Vignelli 

Grids: Their meaning and use for federal designers 

Based on a presentation to the Second Studio Seminar for 
Federal Graphic Designers, November 10, 1976 

National Endowment for the Arts 

About Grids 

The Federal Design Improvement Program, 
National Endowment for the Arts, recom- 
mends the grid as a device that can save the 
government time and money and take the 
guesswork out of graphic communication. It 
has been used successfully for many years in 
the commercial sector and is fast becoming a 
design resource throughout government. 

What is a grid? The NASA standards manual 
defines it as "a predetermined understructure 
that the designer can employ to give the publi- 
cation cohesive style and character. It is a 
great organizer of material . . . and will save 
countless manhours in execution." 

Besides NASA, scores of Federal agencies 
have established the grid as a framework for 
their overall communication systems. 

Do grids restrict designers? No. On the con- 
trary, they are considered as an aid to the 
creative process. The Labor Department 
standards manual states: "The grid system ii 
not intended to restrict design creativity. 
Rather, the various grids will assist the de- 
signer in organizing the visual information in 
the most effective manner." 

About the Author 

Massimo Vignelli was born in Milan in 1931 
and studied at Brera Academy of Art, Milan, 
and the School of Architecture of the 
University of Venice. 

He has been a member of the Italian 
Association for Industrial Design (ADI) since 
its founding in 1 956 and served on its Board 
of Directors from 1 960 to 1 964. 

In 1967 he was elected a member of the 
Alliance Graphique Internationale. 

From 1961 to 1965 he was a member of the 
Study Group of the International Council of 
Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID); in 
1976/77 he was President of the American 
Institute of Graphic Arts and Vice President 
of the Architectural League of New York 

Currently he is a Trustee of the Institute for 
Architecture and Urban Studies. 

Mr. Vignelli has taught at the Institute of 
Design of the Illinois Institute of Technology, 
Chicago (1958-1959), and the Design 
Schools of Milan (1960-1964) and Venice 
(1962-1964), the School of Architecture of 
Columbia University, New York (1967-1968), 
and the Philadelphia College of Art (1969), 
and he has been Andrew Mellon visiting 
professor at Cooper Union in New York. 

His awards include the Towie Silversmiths 
Fellowship for product design (1957), the 
Compasso d'Oro for product design (1964), 
and the Grand Prix Triennale di Milano for 
graphic design (1964). 

Examples of his graphic and product design 
are in the permanent collection of the 
Museum of Modern Art, New York. A 
traveling exhibition of his work has been 
organized by the Museum. 

In 1960, Mr. and Mrs. Vignelli established the 
Massimo and Leila Vignelli Office of Design 
and Architecture in Milan, as consultant 
designers for graphics, products, furniture 
and interiors for major European companies 
and institutions. 

Mr. Vignelli's work is represented in 
numerous significant design magazines and 
books in the United States and abroad. 

In 1965, he cofounded Unimark International, 
a corporation for Design and Marketing, of 
which he was a Director and Senior Vice 
President for Design. 

Since 1971 , he has been President of 
Vignelli Associates, New York, with liaison 
offices in Paris and Milan. The firm is 
currently involved in design of corporate 
graphics, publications, architectural and 
transportation graphics, packaging, exhibition 
interiors, furniture and products for both 
American and European companies. 

Mr. and Mrs. Vignelli were awarded the 1973 
Industrial Arts Medal by the American 
Institute of Architects. 

All the work I do is based on grids. I can't 
design anything without a grid. I am so 
accustomed to using a grid that I use it for 
everything, even for stationery. The grid 
provides the tool for quick solutions. Without 
a grid I'm desperate; I have no starting point. 
With a grid I can do a 150-page book in one 
day— layout, sketching, every picture in it; 
without sketching I can do a 300-page book 
in one day. Without the grid I couldn't do it. 

A grid is nothing more than a tool. Once 
accustomed to using that tool, a designer 
can use it very profitably. I know that 
particularly in this country, where people are 
not trained to use grids, there is a certain 
amount of fear about this tool and how to use 
it. Generally speaking the grid is a great help 
not only for qualified super-professionals, but 
for anyone just out of school. It's much easier 
to arrive at a good, civilized, professional 
design with a grid than without a grid. The 
grid makes the designer the master of his 
own tools, which are defined for each new 
project. It's a great thing. The designer can 
choose the most appropriate grid for the job 
or work with a grid that is already 
established, knowing that it has been 
devised to cover certain contingencies, a 
certain range of problems. That grid can be 
used appropriately in the way that best fits 
one's own taste. 

One of the first considerations in establishing 
a grid is the nature of the material that must 
be designed. In establishing the grid, the 
designer must know whether the material will 
be text only or heavily illustrated. In each 
case the grid must be designed in a specific 
way. If the material is mostly text, the grid will 
be based on picas; if the material is mostly 
photographic, it will be organized in inches. 
There is still this tremendous nonsense that 
two major areas in the preparation of printed 
matter are working with a completely 
different set of standards: Photographers, 
engravers, binders all work with inches; 
printers work with picas. It doesn't make any 
sense, but that's the way it is for the time 

The grid design must be related to the size of 
the material. If the material is mostly 
photographic, and the photographs are 
mostly rectangular, obviously the grid design 
will not be based on squares, because then 
every page will be a problem. A rectangular 
photograph will probably dictate a 
rectangular grid. If most of the material is 
square, then the grid will have to be square. 
If the photographs are both rectangular and 
square, the grid must be a grid for all 
seasons; it must represent a compromise. 

The next decision is the number of columns. 
A grid of four columns gives great flexibility. 
For instance, there can be two columns each 
two modules wide, or there can be one 
column for illustration and then three 
columns for text. There can be any number 
of variations of that kind. 

Then an area is assigned for headlines. The 
headline can be placed with a large body of 
text, leaving a column of space perhaps for 
photographs. Placement will vary from job to 
job, from assignment to assignment, from 
need to need. The smaller the grid — ^that is, 
the more modules there are in the grid — the 
greater the designer's freedom. The larger 
the module of the grid, the less the freedom. 
If the grid is very small, however — like graph 
paper — it becomes so flexible that the 
advantage is lost. Too much freedom is no 
order, and the opposite is just as bad. 

When the project is completely designed, 
there is thus a sense of recurrence, of unity 
throughout. There is a sense that the book 
has been designed rather than piled up; it 
has been woven rather than just put 

Change for the better with 
Alcoa Aluminum 



About ten years ago we were asked by the 
Alcoa Company to put some order into its 
advertising. A company of that size used 
(and is still using) five or six different 
agencies, among them some of the best 
agencies in the country. Although each 
agency was doing the best it could, no Alcoa 
image emerged from the advertising. It 
lacked unity. The advertising had a lot of 
diversity but no identity. One of the major 
issues in the design profession is to provide 
a subtle balance between identity and 

The first thing we did was to provide Alcoa 
with a set of grids and standards. We 
prepared a whole booklet for the art directors 
of the different agencies. In the booklet they 
could find a grid to fit each particular 

Then we coordinated the three elements, this 
trinity Alcoa had: the logo (Alcoa), the 
trademark, and the slogan. The slogan 
changes every few years; at that time it was 
"Change for the better with Alcoa 
Aluminum." We established a relationship 
between these elements. 

The designer Saul Bass created the Alcoa 
logo and prepared a corporate identity 
manual in which he developed many 
relationships between the trademark and the 
logo. The result of this was that the 
advertising agency used the trademark in 
relation to the logo in many different ways 
and thus diluted the effectiveness of that 
relationship. It's rather important that certain 
elements, such as trademarks and logos 
(although I don't believe too much in 
trademarks or logotypes), be used in a 
consistent and recurrent manner. Again, 
grids will help. Grids are, as I said, nothing 
but a tool. Establishing a relationship 
between these elements becomes a tool. 

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We developed a grid for the typical Alcoa 
magazine advertising page. There is a 
position for the signature, the slogan, and the 
trademark and logotype; then there is the 
area for the copy and the area for illustration. 

We showed all kinds of possibilities in the 
booklet. For instance, we indicated that the 
headlines would be in the area delineated by 
the bold line and the copy in the area marked 
by the thin line. Alternatively, there could be 
a very large title, the signature could be 
moved from top to bottom, or the bottom 
area could be used for a spread. There is 
this freedom within the grid. 

Again, if more area is needed for illustration, 
there is a range of alternative arrangements 
to choose among. The booklet we prepared 
shows literally hundreds of different 
possibilities. A choice of any one of these 
combinations puts the design consistently 
into a program. 

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We have some examples of the ads before 
and after. We took some ads as they were 
done by one of Alcoa's agencies. The 
signature was buried at the bottom of the 
text. The text was printed in a very large size 
type, which is unnecessary, because a 
magazine is read at a distance of about a 
foot, at the most a foot and a half, depending 
on the size of the type, but it doesn't need a 
type so large. That kind of size is comparable 
to an emotional value. It's like turning on the 
loudspeaker. We thought at the time that 
there was no need for Alcoa to resort to this 
kind of advertising technique; it could use a 
different approach. We suggested a certain 
size for headlines, a certain size for copy, 
and so forth. One thing we didn't like and 
wanted them to keep away from was faddish 
handling of typography in their ads. Within a 
program of this kind, which it was our task to 
coordinate, it becomes important to provide 
tools and means to keep the image of this 
company above and beyond any kind of fad. 

In our approach the concept of identification 
came first. We were much more interested in 
letting the reader know first that it was an 
Alcoa ad and then leading the reader into the 

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We also showed alternative arrangements to 
satisfy Alcoa's different needs. Sometimes 
the designers can work out the ad using only 
some text and the signature, or they can use 
text, the signature, and illustration. 


Now let's take a look at the beginning of the 
program, starting with an ad done by one of 
Alcoa's agencies. With few exceptions, such 
as the indentation in the copy, the ad could 
have been done by us. In a sense this is 
proof that a program set up properly will yield 
good results no matter who is working with it. 

This is an extremely important detail, 
particularly at the level at which a new 
program is being set up. There is no way to 
know who will be implementing the program 
in the future, but there should be some 
assurance that the original good program will 
not be wasted by temperamental designers 
who are more interested in expressing 
themselves than in solving the problem with 
which they must deal. 

Naturally, when we started to do this, there 
was a tremendous reaction among the 
agency people. The agency people had 
never worked with grids before. All the art 
directors had exactly the opposite kind of 
background. One art director resigned from 
the account because he said he didn't want 
to work with the grids. He felt that the grids 
were a tremendous restraint. 

Other people, however, began to use them. 
At the beginning I went to Pittsburgh about 
once every month or two for training 
sessions with the art directors on the use of 
this tool. Then I didn't go there for some time, 
and then I went once a year. The intriguing 
thing was that after a year I walked into one 
of the agencies, and while I was waiting I 
looked around and discovered they were 
using grids, the same kind of grids, for other 
clients. They had become so accustomed to 
working with grids, they finally understood 
their value, and they were using them 
naturally. Grids are a way of life, so to speak. 



Another ad done — again, I don't know by 
whom — conforms exactly to the format 
established, and I think it still has a nice 
advertising impact. In other spreads we can 
also see the same format. These examples 
show the possibility of using any kind of 

This becomes particularly interesting in light 
of today's developments. I think one of the 
greatest changes between the 1 960s and the 
1970s is what I call pluralism. By that I mean, 
in the last five or six years we have been 
through an age of permissiveness that has 
freed us from the previous constraint of using 
only one kind of visual language. I remember 
when things had to be designed in a Swiss 
style or the designer was pretty much dead 
or nonexistent, or an irrelevant person. 


I think the greatest thing right now is that 
designers can design anything the way they 
want it, the way they feel is most appropriate, 
and they have all the tools. Illustration is 
terrific today, photography has achieved 
great heights, and design can master all 
things at the same time. 

The concept of pluralism as it exists today is 
a very healthy and very helpful attitude, but it 
can only work if it is based on solid discipline. 
With that kind of structural discipline in 
graphic design, anything is possible; without 
jt there is chaos. 

In another example we see an illustration of 
a certain kind, probably not so good as the 
other one but still efficient. I don't know who 
did it. It's the greatest satisfaction to see that 
this program has been very well 
implemented over the years. It's now in its 
tenth year, and they're still using it, with 
some exceptions here and there. 


That again is part of what I suggested to 
them. I once had a meeting in Pittsburgh with 
all the art directors from all the agencies, and 
they asked if they always had to use the 
grids. I told them to be careful with the grid or 
they would find themselves trapped with it. 
The message would be sacrificed to the grid 

The grid is like a cage in which there is a lion 
(the message) and a lion tamer (the 
designer). If the tamer is good, he can 
master the lion long enough, but eventually, 
in order to survive, even the best tamer must 
get out of the cage or the lion will eat him up. 

If the grid is used too long — when it's not 
appropriate, when it's not necessary, or 
when it's done purely mechanically — then the 
grid is going to bite; it's going to interfere with 
communicating the message. If the designer 
knows when it's time to go in and out of the 
cage — when it's time to use the grid or to 
leave it behind — ^then the grid really helps 
and is a marvelous tool to work with. 

New York Botanical Garden 
We were asked by the New York Botanical 
Garden to develop a corporate identity. This 
was a particularly interesting assignment, 
because the New York Botanical Garden is a 
glorious institution with a great library; it's a 
nonprofit organization, for which I have a 
penchant. There is a great sense of 
satisfaction in working for a nonprofit 
organization that working for a profitmaking 
organization never gives. 

We developed a minimanual of graphics 
standards for the Botanical Garden. In the 
1960s, this manual would probably have 
been more than a hundred pages, telling us 
everything. A minimanual for a nonprofit 
organization such as the Botanical Garden 
gives a tremendous opportunity to get down 
to the bones, to give the essential 
information and skip all the superfluities. 


One of the first things we did for the 
iilii H Botanical Garden was to standardize paper 
sizes. Before we made our 
recommendations, they used all kinds of 
sizes, which resulted in tremendous waste. 
There's no point in using different sizes just 
because different jobs seem to call for 
different sizes. Taking into consideration a 
long-range program, consistency, filing, 
retrieving the information, and saving money, 
standardization is a phmary concern. 
Standardization makes even more sense for 
people involved with the government. 

Sooner or later, the United States will also go 
to a metric system. Then there will be about 
six months or a year of total disaster. During 
that time we will never know how many 
centimeters equal an inch and what fraction 
of an inch equals a centimeter. But at the 
end, we will find out that it's all for the better, 
and we will have conformed to the 
international sizes, which happen to be much 
nicer. The basic stationety size in America is 
8y2 by 1 1 inches. The international size is 
81/4 by 11 11/1 6, and that dimension is a 
fabulous proportion: It's the golden 

One of the first things we did for the 
Botanical Garden, of course, was to 
standardize the paper sizes for all its printed 
matter into the international size. So by the 
time these sizes are adopted nationally, the 
Botanical Garden will already be using them. 
Since it's a scientific institution after all, the 
directors really welcomed the idea of 
conforming to the international standards. 

The manual illustrates the different sizes, thd 
way they work in relation to each other, and 
some of the basic folds. 



The Botanical Garden's needs are very 
variable. Sometimes the photographs used 
are 8 X 1 and sometimes 24 x 36. 
Sometimes the photographs are square, 
such as Rolleiflex prints. Most of the material 
falls into one of these categories, so there is 
Jess cropping to do. This saves time, and it 
saves the photographer anger, too. 

One of the items of the standardization 
program is the typeface to be used. It's much 
easier to set standards for items like that 
than change all the time. The choice of a 
typeface should be based not only on 
graphic or aesthetic considerations, but also 
on economic considerations. 

We have some examples of Times Roman in 
different combinations of roman, italic, and 
bold, juxtaposed against typewriter type 
Now typewriter type— particularly for a 
nonprofit organization— could substitute 
beautifully as a typeface, particularly If there 
IS an established set of standards. The text is 
typed on the typewriter (which is just a 
desk-top typesetting machine, FOR FREE) 
then reduced either by Xerox or by photostat 
to a conventional book point size. Reduced 
to eight or nine points, as it would be for a 
book, a magazine, or a newspaper, 
typewritten copy doesn't look like 
correspondence anymore; it begins to look 
like a typeface. As a matter of fact, it's even 
better than a typeface, because it doesn't 
have any particular emotional value attached 
to it. 

The other great aspect of typewriter type is 
that It stresses the structural element of 
design. We didn't really wake up one 
morning to the realization that typewriter type 
had a wonderful structure. After a few years 
of using the typewriter as an economical 
means of typesetting, we came to perceive 
that typographic design is basically structural 
and not emotional. The manual itself, by the 
way, uses typewriter type for the text. 






The Botanical Garden's stationery is also 
organized with a grid, a three-column grid. 
The first column has the initials, the second 
and third have the signature of the New York 
Botanical Garden. The address and 
message appear from the fold down, with the 
symbol at the bottom of the second column. 

This is a very clear approach. By shifting the 
text to the two right-hand columns, a sense 
of order and also a sense of identification are 
created that are stronger than those created 
by the usual inch-and-a-half or two-inch 

The Botanical Garden, like all institutions, 
has all kinds of forms. We designed a grid for 
all the forms based on typewriter spacing. 
There is vertical spacing and a four-pica 
horizontal modulation. This gives a vertical 
reference that relates to the basic 
three-column structure of the grid. 

We also established certain criteria for thick 
and thin lines to separate the text within a 
form. Everything else is typewritten, reduced, 
and placed in position, so it can readily be 
filled in either by hand or by typewriter. 

The directory is also done on a typewriter so 
that it can be changed without crying over 
the cost of resetting all the type. The 
typewriter is used for all the message parts 
Type is used, however, for identification 
elements that relate to the overall institutiona 


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The Botanical Garden awards diplomas for i 
courses it offers. The design of the diploma • 
is all celebration. 

We also designed a stationery variation for 
other activities within the Botanical Garden 
that can have their own identification. 



We decided to use the three-column grid for 
the newsletter and the magazine, also. We 
can see the different layout possibilities in 
these applications. Everything is much more 
disciplined. There is a space at the top for 
running titles, for headlines, and for 
everything else. The grid helps to position 
things. If these things had to be laid out 
without a grid, it would be really difficult to 
know where to position them. This kind of 
tool provides a frame of reference, a 
reference point. 


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We did some booklets for the Botanical 
Garden that also follow the standards — all 
typewriter inside, with press type for the 
outside. This is another project that can be 
produced inexpensively. 

We designed a grid for posters, allocating 
space for illustrations, space for text, and 
space for identification. We provided an 
alternative format to give flexibility. We 
showed one poster in the manual as an 
application of the way this goes together. 


And, finally, we worked on signage. We used 
the same design concept, more or less, for 
identification of the plants throughout the 
garden and for signage throughout the 
offices and public areas of the museum. 


Fort Worth Art Museum 
Another project was the graphics for the Fort 
Worth Art Museum. Every year the museum 
chooses a different designer for its graphics 
so that it can build up a collection of different 
approaches. In 1976, Vignelli Associates was 
chosen to do the graphics. 

First we selected a typeface, in this case 
Century, which I happen to like very much. 
Century is a rather ambiguous typeface. It's 
a classic type, but at the same time it's not. It 
was designed in 1894 for Century magazine, 
so it's eighty-four years old, but it's still good. 
The only problem with this type is that it has 
been made by many different foundries and 
is very inconsistent in its cut, so it is 
particularly difficult to find the right one. 
While Century Expanded, the type we chose, 
is beautiful. Century Schoolbook seems to 
lack completely the flare and the grace of 
Century Expanded. Century Schoolbook is 
bold and spiritless. Century Expanded has 

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For all the Fort Worth Art Museum 
publications, including the monthly calendar 
and all the stationery, we established a 
format using a big black band. This happens 
to be a tool I use very often. Then on the 
calendar there are other black bands with the 
days in reverse, and there is an area for 

Again, this is done with the discipline of a 
grid. There is space for ten lines — one line 
for the title, a one-line space, then another 
eight lines for text. 

The back of the calendar has one event, and 
that in itself provides a kind of layout. Every 
month we change the color of the calendar. 
The design change is provided by the shifting 
of the events themselves. Again, identity is 
established by the format, and diversity is 
established by the events themselves. 




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So we can see again how nicely everything 
works out when a grid has been set up in ' 
relation to the fold. We keep designing and | 
forgetting how things should be folded. Whei 
a design sticks to the grid, and the fold is 
already incorporated in the grid, by the time 
the thing is folded it begins to be music; 
everything goes together beautifully. 

These are small details. We are talking shop 
not great philosophy. But these little details j 
do portray a philosophy, an attitude toward i 
communication, and an attitude toward ^ 
design and its integrity. 

We also designed some posters for the 
museum's major events. Again, the big blac 
band, the type and four-column basic 
structure, and the illustration playing free. It 
doesn't have to fit the grid, because 
otherwise it would be too monotonous. The 
grid can't be seen, but it's there. That's the 
beauty of the grid. When it can be seen, it's 







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One of the posters was about a permanent 
collection of paintings. We didn't want to 
show all the paintings, but we did use all the 
names of the artists, and we used different 
colors for the names to make a painting out 
of the poster. We did a lot of these posters 
with the grid. Where I would have put this 
type without the grid, I really don't know. 


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Another example of inexpensive graphics, as 
I like to call them, is a Fort Worth Art 
Museum publication that is all done on the 
typewriter. It is typewhter type reduced, as 
we discussed earlier. This publication could 
be a real magazine, judged on its 
appearance. It's printed on newsprint and in 
the same fashion as a newspaper, so it has a 
margin, because we cannot have bleeds. 
The grid is three columns across and four 
modules in height. With the grid to help in 
filling in the spaces, everything can be 
related — rather than putting some things 
another quarter of an inch higher or 
lower — and then the whole thing begins to 
work beautifully. 

The typewriter is just as good as anything 
else for setting type. From a distance 
typewriter type looks like any typeface. If that 
appearance is satisfactory, right away $1 ,000 
is saved by not setting type. 


The Kiilevala 


12 3 4 



Other Inexpensive Projects 
Another inexpensive project we did was the 
graphics for St. Peter's Church in New York 
(for which we are also doing the interiors). 
We chose kraft paper in a size that fits a 
multilith. In this way we demonstrate how an 
institution with limited finances can approach 
an identification program using the most 
inexpensive production techniques, such as 

Multilith accepts paper sizes up to &V2 by 17 
inches. We took that size as a starting point 
and began to build the whole system of 
paper sizes and formats for different 
purposes, just as we did in the Botanical 
Garden manual. The only difference was tha' 
instead of doing it in the abstract, in terms of 
international standards as we did before, in 
this case we did it in terms of feasibility. So 
we developed a set of standards appropriate 
to their use and to the equipment available. 
There's no real reason why they should use 
much more expensive ways of printing when 
they can use multilith or even duplicator. I 
don't think a designer should feel restrained 
by designing projects to be reproduced by a 
duplicator. It's not what is done but how it is 
done that is really the soul of the design 

Another example of an inexpensive design is 
the church newspaper. Again, it is all done 
on the typewriter, either blown up or reduced 
and it looks like the real thing. It doesn't look 
like a cheap, homemade thing; it looks like a 
professional newspaper. It could be the New 
York Times in a sense. 


The Architectural League of NewY)rk 

We also designed some graphics for the 
Architectural League in New York. Once 
again we used kraft paper. The stationery 
has three folds and no horizontal grid. We 
used only the folds working as a grid. The 
stationery can also be used in the other 
direction, depending on the kind of 
announcement required. 

All our work for the Architectural League 
relied on kraft paper, the typewriter, and the 
logo in Garamond as identification. For 
diversity we could change color and design 
any time. 




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We also designed some invitations for a 
dinner for the designers Charles and Ray 
Eames. The invitations were printed on 
different colors of tissue paper and were in 
all the glasses, so that the whole thing was 
colorful on all the tables, reflecting the 
Barnes's joyful approach to design. 


Now let's look at a poster for the Beaux Arts 
tour of buildings in New York. It's a 
marvelous photograph by the architectural 
photographer Cervin Robinson of the 
Customs House in New York. On the back of 
it, again in typewriter type, there are 
descriptions of every building and tour, street 
by street, in that particular area. 






I said before that the identity of the League 
was maintained by the consistent use of 
Garamond and typewriter type. But I also 
said before that the lion tamer must not stay 
in the cage too long, or the lion will bite. 
When we had to do an Architectural League 
poster dedicated to Art Deco, we changed 
the type. We used Futura type, which is 
much more appropriate in that particular 
case. This is exactly the kind of freedom we 
always have. In one case we changed the 
typeface, but in the next case we went back 
to the regular setup. Doing that gains 
effectiveness and recognition at the same 



The Moore College of Art in Philadelphia 
asked Vignelli Associates to create a design 
identity program. We told them to use 
typewriter type, because they had limited 
funds, but to print everything they did in 
red — exclusively in red. So their stationery 
has a typewriter logo that is printed, and then 
the text is typewritten in color using a red 
ribbon. Everything begins to look unified; it 
doesn't look poor anymore. 

We designed the invitation cards for their 
exhibitions. All one color, all red, and that's it. 

We have some sketches of the presentation 
we made to them. All the college's posters 
were different sizes, which is a great waste 
of money. That is why I insist on 
standardizing format and sizes. So we 
suggested using one size. That size 
becomes an announcement. The recurrence 
of the size becomes an identification 




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In another two-column treatment the 
expression is very different. One is very 
quiet, very informative; the other is another 
kind of event, a one-person show. 


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the typewriter could also be enlarged 

Although we used this program for all the 
Moore College publications, the grid for the 
catalogs was a slightly different proposition. 
Catalogs of paintings of course include 
illustrations of all sizes. A painting cannot be 
cropped just to fit the grid, but there must be 
a starting point. In one case, for instance, we 
centered all the paintings. That means that 
we used these two axes of symmetry for the 
whole thing, but the copy starts on the 
position indicated by the grid. Any painting 
could be shifted wherever necessary, but the 
type would return to the same position. 


We worked out still another grid for the 
Moore College alumni journal. 



For the last ten years Vignelli Associates has 
designed all the graphics for Knoll 
International. In the 1960s we used a very 
slick image. All Helvetica throughout, very 
businesslike. We wanted to represent the 
advance management, in a sense, the 
modern top management; we wanted to 
illuminate management, just as a large 
corporate headquarters is set off when it 
uses good contemporary architecture. 

So the image of Knoll during the 1960s was 
very corporate. Things have changed a lot in 
our society since the 1960s, so now, in the 
1 970s, we thought we should change the 
accent in our communication. We developed 
the idea of not doing slick brochures 
anymore but instead doing something like a 
tabloid. This reflects the influence from the 
underground press filtering up to the 
corporate level. 


—I 1 


We decided to use a tabloid, which is like a 
small newspaper printed on newsprint, set 
with the typewriter, and using photolettering 
for the headlines. We had the same grid for 
all the uses in this tabloid. 

For the basic structure of the cover we have 
a black band at the top, holding everything, 
with photolettering and the Knoll logo. 

We did the layout on a grid of two-column 
width, the text all typewritten and reduced. 
Again I stress the fact that the cost of 
production using the typewriter instead of 
typesetting is very little. The cost of a 
newspaper like this, of a tabloid like this, is 
something like fifteen or twenty cents as 
opposed to a dollar for a typeset brochure. 
So it is easy to see that many more people 
can be reached. Of course, on the other side 
the brochure, being slick and expensive, will 
probably be kept, while the newspaper has 
the tendency to be thrown away. So there 
are pluses and minuses on that. 


Z 3 

The funny thing, however, is that, since this 
goes to the architectural community, when 
the people receiving it understood that the 
paper was a recurring thing, they began 
keeping it, they put on the folder so they 
could keep the information and retrieve it. 

Another tabloid on furniture designed by the 
designer Otto Zapf used four colors on the 
front and back, so we also used color for the 
type. The use of color in the typography 
helps to take away from the boredom. 

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When we designed for the residential area of 
Knoll, we went away from Helvetica and 
used instead a Bodoni, which I redesigned 
(with apologies to my countrymen). I felt that 
the Bodoni needed revision, because our 
taste for type has completely changed. The 
advent of Helvetica completely changed our 
graphic perceptions and our taste for type. In 
Helvetica the height of the capital letters is 
much shorter in relation to the height of the 
lower-case letters than in any other classic 
typeface, and the possibility of making the 
type tighter has also by now become a part 
of our perception. So we took Bodoni Bold 
and used a smaller upper case with a larger 
lower case — for instance, a 60-point upper 
case and a 72-point lower case. I also made 
other height adjustments to reduce the height 
of the type. 

We did another tabloid for a line of furniture 
designed by an Italian designer, Gae Aulenti. 
It seemed to me a good idea to go to 
Vicenza, near Venice in Italy, to photograph 
this line in a villa designed by the sixteenth 
century Italian architect Andrea Palladio. I 
remembered that the villa had frescoes that 
extended down to the floor. What I wanted to 
do was to fill these pictures and create an 
impression so unusual that it would be 
retained as the image. When we think of the 
Barcelona chair, we always think of Mies van 
der Rohe's beautiful Barcelona pavilion; that 
is the image that has stuck in our minds. 


What I wanted to do in this case was to put 
this line of furniture in a surrounding of 
classicism, elegance, and value that would 
be associated with the furniture. I didn't want 
to have any people in the picture; at the 
same time I did want people in the picture. 

We had a lot of fun there. We went to the 
baker and invited him to the villa. I showed 
him a particular bread that was in the fresco 
and asked if he could make the same kind 
again. So it was kind of fun. 

We arranged the catalog to show details of 
the furniture on one side and then the exact 
descriptions of the things on the other side, 
so all the necessary information is available. 
An emotional level on one side and the 
objective value level on the other side. 


0.; In government agencies there is a lot of 
copy change. I'd like to know how much 
control you demand over the size of the 
copy once you start into the project. 
A.: Some time ago we designed a 
newspaper, one of the very few that I know 
had been designed with grids. The 
newspaper had a certain number of modules. 
Every module contained so many words per 
line and so many words per module. Let's 
say for the sake of simplicity that each 
module was 1 00 words. The people on the 
editorial staff automatically knew that they 
had to write in modules of 100. So the editor 
would tell a reporter to write 300 words, or 
500 words, or 1 ,800 words in an article. 

What that means in terms of layout is that if 
there are, let's say, 1 ,200 words, then there 
are 12 modules. With twelve modules, the 
text can be organized into two columns of six 
modules each, or four columns of three 
modules each, or three columns of four 
modules each. 

So this system provides great freedom in 
setting up a page layout within the time 
framework typical of newspapers. Obviously, 
discipline that is imposed on the designer 
must be imposed on the editors. If a grid 
system is set up, and it requires so many 
words per module, the copywriter must stick 
to it. The other thing is, if there is a good 
relationship between the people putting the 
publication together and the people writing, 
the coordinator can ask the writer to cut two 
or three lines here and there, and the writer 
will agree. There should be this kind of 

Use of grids, of course, trains the mind to 
think in terms of modules, which are the 
greatest thing in terms of controlling space. 
Two thousand years ago the Roman 
architect Marcus Vitruvius used nothing but 
modules; Palladio used nothing but modules; 
the French architect Le Corbusier used 
nothing but modules, not to mention Mies 
van der Rohe, who did nothing but work with 
modules. It is in the great tradition of 
controlling space to work with modules. It is 
in the great tradition of mess not to do it. 


0.; Why don't you tell us how you 
redesigned the Senate papers? 
A.: The design of the book as it was before 
was very traditional, nothing changed since it 
was originally designed. I was in Paris 
recently and I was looking at some 
documents, some books published in 1847. 
They were exactly like the Senate 
papers — slightly better, as a matter of 
fact — but I was really shocked when I saw 
that these books had the date 1 847. That's 
really exactly what the Senate papers looked 
like. The design didn't look bad just because 
it was old — that, if anything, would have beer 
good. It looked bad because it had been 
completely taken apart over time by a series 
of unrelated interventions, none of which 
were guided by an overall structure. 

One bad characteristic was the habit of 
indentations ad infinitum. Of course they ate 
up the whole column. As working tools, these 
papers had no space for writing notes. And 
of course anyone working with these 
documents must be able to make notes on 
them. After all, they aren't novels that one 
sits down and reads from the beginning to 
the end. These are legal matters. 

Our first concern was to provide a structure, 
and we did a grid that related to the point 
size of the type. We thought the type used on 
this publication was good enough; it gave a 
certain sense that it was a government 
paper. I cannot see a publication like this 
done either in Garamond, which would be 
too literary, or in Helvetica, which would be 
too technical. Furthermore, the existing type 
had a nice continuity with the past. So I 
thought we could keep the type and still 
achieve a design that is contemporary 
because it is structured. 

For the cover design we simply projected 
from the existing structure. On the inside, wel 
provided the extra space that was needed for 
making marginal notes without changing the 
number of words on the page. The new 
format, with wide inside margins, also made 
it easier to read, because the binding 
generally is done with staples, so the book 
really cannot be opened all the way, and the 
text tends to disappear into the gutter. 


I and Election 


Nov«inb«r2. 1976-Gener»l Electic 
December 13, 1976-Dale of meeli 
January 6, 1977 -Counting of elect 

I. Presidential Prefere 



Fib. 24 Dec. 26 New Hampihire 

1I„.2 J.„.2 M„.„hu.e«.. 

M«.! Feb. 10 Vermont. 

Mt. 16 De.. 29 im„o,.. 

M„.23 Feb. 3 North C.rol.n^ 

M.,4 M^.6 Dl..r,ct of Columbia. 

M.,4 Feb 10 Georgia 

l.y« M.r,.6 Indian.. 

! ay 11 Mar. 12 Nebraak.. 

1 ay 11 Feb 7 We.t Virptiia 

M.;.8 M.r26 Maryland 

Ma, 18 Mar 19 Michigan 

May 26 Apr .0 KentuoUy 

May 26 Apr 25 Nevada 

May 26 Apr 6 Arkan.a, 

Ju„.l Apr 16 Sooth Dakota. 

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Another thing we did was to apply much 
more restraint in terms of typography. We 
suggested that they use certain type sizes for 
different purposes rather than using all kinds 
of different divisions of upper case, lower and 
upper case, upper case bold, upper case 
italic, and so on and so forth. All that doesn't 
really help, and it's bad visually. 

Of course, we also made the same 
improvement in all the tables. It's amazing 
how well this was implemented by the 
Government Printing Office; we had really 
great assistance from that side. 

We thought that the existing binding was 
fine, providing they used good colors. In the 
past they used baby blue, baby pink, 
government green, and so on and so forth. 
Really, they got the most depressing colors 
in the scheme. We told them they should use 
colors with a little more character, like a good 
brown, or gray, or red. The red they used is 
not a great red, but it's what they have within 
their range. They cannot use Champion 
papers, because they can't afford to buy 
them. Everything is on a competitive basis, 
with the lowest price taking the bid, and at 
the lowest price there never is a great range 
of colors. Nevertheless, with certain criteria 
ruling the decision, some good colors can be 

0..' What kind of suggestions would you 
make to editors or customers who want to 
put in filler articles or something wherever 
there is empty space? 
A.: It's very difficult to control that. Of 
course, my theory is that if there is nothing to 
say, nothing should be said. But there are 
people who have horror vacui — that means a 
fear of empty spaces — and they have to fill 
up every space or they can't sleep. Then 
there are people like me, who are very 
serene with nothingness. I adore my houses 
empty, but my neighbors keep asking when 
the furniture is going to come. 


This publication is based on a presentation 
made at the Second Studio Seminar for 
Federal Graphic Designers held at the Illinois 
Institute of Technology, November 10, 1976. 

Studio seminars are sponsored by the 
National Endowment for the Arts as a part of 
the Federal Design Improvement Program. 
The seminars give federal designers the 
opportunity to keep abreast of the latest 
techniques and methods in design and 
communication, to solve problems, and to 
exchange ideas. Participants include 
designers and their supervisors, 
photographers, illustrators, typographers, 
editors, and printing officers. 

For Sale by the Superintendent of Docunnents, 
U.S. Government Printing Office, 
Washington, D.C. 20402 

Stock No. 036-000-00038-4 

>mber 1978